All were silent for two minutes as the men were left, each with his individual thoughts. Then the Colonel ordered, “Move out.”
~Lt. Col. Robert L. Wolverton, commanding officer
of 3rd battalion, 506th PIR.
Last week I mused on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. This week we continue in the Veterans Day vein, turning to the 70th anniversary of D Day, the Normandy invasion, a turning point in World War II.
The beaches of Normandy have been a summer vacation spot for decades – including the years before and after the D Day invasion. In the months leading up to June of 1944 the beachhead and region had been occupied and fortified by German forces, so the holiday atmosphere had long since been dispelled.
On June 6, 1944, coordinating with naval and airborne assault, Allied forces stormed onto a fifty mile stretch of coast. Sections of the beach had been given codenames which have since become famous: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
The challenge was to take the beach and the bluffs behind, getting to high ground as soon as possible to secure a foothold. The speed of their success varied from beach to beach, from one day to a few weeks. Despite significant losses the Allies managed to return to the mainland of Europe, and put Germany on the defensive for the rest of the war.
Today the beaches are a quiet vacation space again but they also host many visitors to the various monuments and cemeteries which commemorate that assault. Last summer I visited the Omaha Beach landing site and the nearby American Cemetery.
The shiny stainless steel sculpture “Les Braves” (The Brave Ones) on Omaha Beach reminds us that this was an amphibious landing. The figures are “knee deep” in the salt water, wading toward the land. The part of beach designated Omaha was five miles long. The soldiers worked under heavy gunfire from 6:30 AM to 3:00PM to get to the top of the hill.
That section of the coast now extends quietly for miles on either side of the memorial.
Atop the bluff which looks out over Omaha Beach is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Fatalities of the campaign were buried in provisional burial plots soon after the battle. A few years after the war the bodies were relocated to their home towns or to this cemetery according to the wishes of the surviving family members. There is also a semicircular memorial listing the names of those who died but whose bodies were not located or identified. This entire complex was dedicated in 1956.
Here we see the endless rows of crosses and stars of David, surrounded by wonderfully kept lawn. The breeze from the English Channel and the view are quite refreshing for visitors. The only sound is that of lawn mowers caring for the 172 acres of grass covering the 9000 plots.
Today the place seems quite peaceful. May it always be so.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
13 November 2014